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Importers and retailers of streaming devices, especially those who programme them to provide free content, can find themselves paying up to $250,000 in fines and face 10 years imprisonment. The warning comes as the Telecommunications Authority (TATT) increases its monitoring of devices such as the Amazon Fire Stick, Android Box, Roku and similar technology.

On Monday, TATT and the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) issued a public statement notifying importers, retailers and the public about the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution and advertisement of illegal streaming devices.

They described illegal streaming devices as small media boxes, USB sticks or other devices that users connect to televisions.

The devices contain software that allows access to television stations, movies, sports channels and other copyrighted content without paying the applicable price or subscription. TATT CEO Cynthia Reddock-Downes said the amendments to the Copyright Act last year now allows the State to act against people involved in the business of importing, selling, distributing or advertising circumvention devices.

She said circumvention devices are those produced or adapted to circumvent the protection of copyright.

Reddock-Downes said people with devices like the Amazon Fire Stick or Android Box could use them to pay for readily available content like Netflix.

However, these devices are sometimes programmed to allow people to stream paid content for free. “What these boxes do, is that when they are programmed or when they are what we call ‘jailbroken,’ it means that people can now do other things with those boxes.

“They are able to access content for free without paying for it and essentially in that way, they are able to avoid the payment that is expected to be made to IP providers,” Reddock-Downes said.

Karel Douglas, TATT’s Executive Officer of Legal and Enforcement, said if anyone imports the devices, the law will take effect.

However, people who already have the devices in their homes for their personal use do not need to worry.“We are dealing with the importers, so when it is used in a business, for example, those are the cases we are saying, that it is an offence.

“I think that is the critical distinction that we have to make in this regard,” Douglas said.

Regarding enforcement, Douglas said copyright owners could seek injunctive relief from the court, including damages, against people who infringe on their intellectual property rights.

There is also the prosecutorial process, whereby police can investigate and charge people who import and sell these devices.

Douglas said the police would rely on TATT and the IPO to show them what devices would be illegal. It would include cases where someone imports a stack of devices, primarily to give free access to paid content.

He said this was online piracy and was a multi-trillion dollar problem that occupies regulators worldwide.

“We are trying to ensure that online piracy is not facilitated by people using these boxes. The law has now provided that anybody who brings in these devices with the aim of selling these devices is prosecuted or will be held to account. Not only by the police but also but the copyright owner,” he said.

Acknowledging that Intellectual Property was a specialised area, Douglas said TATT envisages a task force in the future, partnering with the police, IPO and the Customs and Excise Division (CED).

Reddock-Downes said now that TATT has issued the notice, it would reach out to distributors, informing them of the amendment that prohibited them from continuing.

Several popular applications, including Mobdro and Terrarium TV, allow owners of these devices to stream relatively new content.

However, Reddock-Downes said: “If you find you are looking at a movie that is currently in the cinema or has only just come out and you are not paying for it, you know there is something wrong with that.

“I think the public in Trinidad and Tobago would recognise, certainly, what we are saying here. So it is fine to have your facilities that you pay for, the subscriptions that you pay for.”

She said TATT will also monitor those offering free online streaming services and those advertising as registered television stations.